What role does surveillance play in online freedom?
Many people are growing concerned about the extensive online surveillance programs that governments are under taking.
Freedom is a rather loaded concept. While most people will certainly say they are advocates of freedom, this idea is something that is likely different for everyone.
Since the beginning of time, people have been looking for ways to apply the concept of freedom to various walks of life. The U.S. constitution, for instance, could be understood as a set of guidelines as to how to apply freedom in a variety of contexts. Already a complicated issue, the application of freedom has only become more layered with the emergence of the digital age and the Internet.
Surveillance and freedom
The issue came to a climax recently when Edward Snowden leaked numerous documents to media outlets like the Guardian. These leaks revealed that the National Security Administration, along with the the U.K. equivalent had been engaging in extensive and misleading actions that invaded the personal privacy rights of not only their own citizens, but those of people in other countries. For instance, one of the most shocking findings was that the NSA had tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The major justification for these actions has been national security. While this may be the case, it raises certain questions about the application of security in the context of an allegedly free society. For instance, one of the most widely held and protected individual rights a person has in the U.S. is freedom of speech. However, when one is engaging in various online activities, such as commenting on Facebook or composing a blog post, he or she may be detracted from saying what they truly feel because of their concern for online surveillance.
A recent Consumer Reports survey indicated that almost 60 percent of adult U.S. online consumers are very or somewhat concerned that these NSA policies violate their personal privacy rights. Of these people, 61 percent are seriously concerned about how their email is monitored, while almost 50 percent are concerned about the government monitoring their surfing tendencies.
The Internet's role
The Internet has the power to both increase freedom and limit it. Its capabilities allow people to communicate from all corners of the world and collaborate on different forms of projects. In some countries including Egypt and Iran, it has been used to spark revolutions, though their ends have not necessarily turned out the way that protestors would have liked.
On the other hand, the increase in surveillance has also created concerns. The BBC recently completed a survey about online freedom and how comfortable people felt with expressing themselves online. The poll noted at 67 percent of people feel that the Internet has brought them freedom. People in countries like Nigeria and Kenya, where Internet communications are relatively new, felt especially strongly about the Internet's liberating policies.
However, when it comes to feeling safe about expressing opinions online, support was not nearly as strong. About 52 percent felt that the Internet was not a safe place for freedom of speech.
"There is an increasing sense that everything you do online now is being monitored, or at least can be monitored, by either governments or corporations," said Caroline Baylon, who is a research associate for a think tank on security, according to the news source. "I think Edward Snowden's revelations of widespread spying by the US National Security Agency, including on its own citizens and close allies, have undercut trust in the actions of many governments."
Going forward, the relationship between online freedom and surveillance is sure to only get more complicated, but by bringing these issues to the surface, citizens can build a greater awareness about how their actions are processed.